Make Seismic Moves

It’s not enough to simply own the right gadgets. The value you get from your tech tools—and the applications that run on them—depends on your ability to unlock their full potential to generate leads, spread the word about properties, and close transactions.

July 18, 2012

Geiger counters set? It’s time to give your business a jolt. Let these four tech-savvy pros show you how. 

Minus the Paper

Omar Lopez, broker-owner of Cosmopolitan Real Estate LLC in Las Vegas, uses a combination of integrated online buyers systems, office virtual assistants, lead management programs, and transaction software programs.

Omar’s Story: Here’s an example of how we operate in a paperless environment. Last month, a buyer contacted our office through Zillow, and our automated program responded to him with a thank-you note and a few questions about the buyer’s price range and what type of home he was seeking. At this point, there was no human involved. The buyer thanked us for getting back to him so quickly—at 11 p.m.—and explained what he wanted. Our customized software randomly picked a buyer’s agent from our pool. That agent contacted the buyer and sent him an e-mail with some properties to consider.

The buyer flew in from California, looked at three properties, and flew back home on the same day. He then put in an offer that we sent to the seller through DocuSign (a REALTOR Benefits® partner). The negotiation took place via e-mail and ZipForms (also a REALTOR Benefits® partner), and the deal was sealed with [online] signatures. We e-mailed the seller’s agent and the salesperson uploaded all the documents into TrackMyFile.

As the broker, I monitored the audit process over Lone Wolf Technologies and TrackMyFile. My virtual assistant lets me know if anything is missing based on our broker checklist. I can review this anywhere, as it is all online. When it was time to issue a check for closing, the buyer sent the money electronically. Some sellers require “wet” signatures. That’s the only time we print documents—or when certain packages require additional signatures for files to be completed. Otherwise, all transactions are paperless in our office and all our buyer’s agents, staff, and vendors are paid by electronic funds transfer.

I’d been working in real estate since I was a teenager. Last year when I opened my own brokerage, Cosmopolitan, I knew I wanted to go paperless. It’s very convenient because everyone in the office has easy access to all the forms online for work and review. As the employer, I can cut expenses—from staff size to office supplies. Now that I have all my systems set up, I’m saving around $10,000 per year on expenses like paper costs and toner, and the staff is more efficient.

Our system enables our 12 active salespeople to track both their own work and our office’s accounting side for contracts and taxes. When an agent from the sales side gets a lead (we use customized software to integrate Zillow, Trulia,, and with our Lone Wolf program), my system tells me how much he or she will get paid. This system also does follow-up drip marketing and allows us to analyze an agent’s lead conversion ratios. For our listings, we use field representatives to provide live updates, photos, and feedback on all of the company’s assets.

Postcards and faxes are old school. All of my advertising, marketing, lead management, and sales transactions (REO, short sales, and regular sales) are done online. Agents have access to my pre-list inventory of bank-owned properties by visiting our “Broker Brain” portal, a back-office tool for agents to view available properties, including specs and number of offers. We rely on Google Voice if an agent can’t take the calls. Those voicemails are sent to my lead e-mail manager and then randomly passed on to our buyer’s agents. We use Dropbox to store office forms and pictures from property inspections. We’ve done about 500 paperless transactions over the past year. It’s 2012—we have to stay open for the next big thing that will make transactions more efficient.

Video Stories

Eric Lavey is a salesperson with Teles Properties in Beverly Hills, Calif. Last summer, he created a video for one of his listings, a luxury home in the hills, that attracted a lot of attention for its noir look and stylish storyline.

Eric’s Story: After working in the talent agency world for years, I got into real estate at the end of 2005, right before the collapse. I remember selling my first condo within two weeks. Then the whole world flipped. I had to be different. This town responds to things that are fresh and out of the box.

In 2010, I listed a $1.6 million home and had amazing photos to market it. It looked like it was out of Architectural Digest. The ­buyers bought it within two weeks—without touring the property in person—because of those wonderful photos. That’s when I started thinking about videos. Some agents were already using video, but the quality was often bad and didn’t reflect the property’s true potential. People looking here in the $1 million range are savvy. They are talent agents, attorneys, doctors, and super creative people. Their expectations are high. However, their sense of imagination is sometimes lacking. You need to show even the most creative people how they can live in a house.

Last summer, I had a really sexy listing in the Hollywood Hills for just under $1 million. My assistant and I scoured for a young, hungry filmmaker. There are plenty here, but certainly agents in Ohio or Kansas can find people in their area who want to make movies. I hired a sharp guy who’d done small student films.

Keeping in mind those slick commercials from Apple and luxury carmakers about how the product will make your life better, I set about to capture that high-quality look and feel. I chose a buyer profile and created a story line for the house. The video shows a young man, maybe a talent agent or attorney, coming home from the office. He’s texting, changing his clothes, fixing a drink, and then heading back down the street to some cool restaurants, which shows how convenient this home is in today’s world. The neighborhood looks stylish, and the house shows really well. People talk about the house in the video. The goal is for the consumer to say, “I need this in my life.” It’s pure marketing—a brochure.

Since then, I’ve done four storyline videos for listings, and I recently did three mini documentaries on a neighborhood called Atwater Village. I’m also working on very simple, informative videos, such as an interview with a mortgage broker I work with. And I’m in the process of putting together a line of videos that show buyers how the homebuying process works. I try to keep my videos at about 90 seconds. My budget per video is well under $3,000.

The key is to find someone with film equipment who knows how to use it and who can edit really well. But I am involved in every aspect of production. I direct the concept, shots, and editing My assistant and I post the videos to my site,, and to my Vimeo and YouTube channels. I also use the videos in e-mail blasts.

Since launching these videos nine months ago, I’ve heard from people all over the world, which is great. But more important, the videos have helped me gain recognition locally. 

E-Mail Engagement

Eric Rogers is a real estate broker with Century 21 Pro-Team in Aurora, Ill., who has been using e-mail marketing for six years and says it plays a part in 100 percent of his deals.

Eric’s Story: When I first became a broker, I was aggressive about launching a Web site because I needed a way to generate leads. I also needed a structured, hands-off approach to stay in touch with people who weren’t likely to buy for another two years. E-mail marketing helped me prevent those leads from slipping through the cracks. After I started e-mail marketing, my conversion rate rose.

Now, I use three e-mail marketing programs: auto responders so initial contacts get an immediate response; a drip e-mail program that reaches people at certain intervals, such as every month for the next two years; and a newsletter for more personalized marketing. The drip campaign is built to address one or more of prospects’ needs. I might write about the importance of being preapproved, recommend a good loan officer, offer to provide a list of foreclosures, or check to see if the recipients have a home to sell before buying (a great way of flushing out potential listings) and, if so, whether they’d like a free market analysis. The campaign keeps people in the fold. 

I have an IDX provider that does my Web site; a lot of my auto responders go through that provider. My drip and newsletter campaigns are done through Century 21 providers. I’ve experimented with a lot of different e-mail marketing programs. Top Producer didn’t fit with me because it mostly divides leads into two categories: prospects and clients. With my system, I categorize leads three different ways: leads (when a user registers on my site but I have had no additional contact), contacts (leads who have engaged in some additional level of interaction with me besides simply registering), and clients (contacts who have been screened and qualified and who I’m currently working with). I would have had to do too many workarounds with Top Producer to make it consistent. I tried Constant Contact and MailChimp, but these systems expect you to have a client list that has opted in and really wants to be on a newsletter list. They don’t understand that agents will be using their systems to prospect leads. They’re set up so that if you have too many leads opt out of your list in one e-mail campaign, or if you have a couple of people on your list mark your e-mails as spam, they issue you a warning.

My best results have come from auto responders and drip marketing. Over the past year and a half, I’ve received about 2,000 contacts from my Web site. Hot prospects get an e-mail every five to seven days for about two months. I get a 10 percent response rate from that campaign. From the long-term campaign, I have a 2 percent to 3 percent response rate. The content of my hot-prospect campaign is tailored to people who plan to buy a home in the next 90 days. It encourages them to get preapproved and asks questions about setting up showings. My long-term program includes more educational content—details about buyer programs, the market, or the buying process—always with a call to action.

Keep it simple, two to three sentences. My most successful e-mail says: “Hello [first name]. I wanted to check to see how your search for a home is going.” Prospects don’t want to commit, but if you use a light touch and a conversational tone, they are more likely to reach out.

I used to do a lot of HTML-rich e-mail with nice formatting and pictures. But lately, I’ve gone more simple [using] all text. The reason I’ve gone back is because of smartphones and tablets. A lot of formatting looks horrible on a smartphone.

I spend about 30 minutes a day inputting new leads and checking on earlier leads. I also spend time on personal follow-ups. Overall, though, this system is intended to be automated. There’s a lot of set-up and thought involved in crafting those initial e-mails. But then it’s just a matter of being consistent.

Social Studies

Janie Coffey GRI, director of sales and brand experience with One Sotheby’s International Realty in Miami, where she was hired in January as a result of the social media savvy she previously demonstrated as a broker with her own company.

Janie’s Story: I opened my own brokerage with a partner in 2006, and getting through the recession was difficult. I credit social media with helping us. Starting in 2007, I committed time every day to writing a real estate blog, and that got us a lot of business. Buyers and sellers would [search] Google looking for an expert, and they would find all of the blog posts I’d written on topics specific to their needs. Then I discovered Facebook, back when it was common to throw sheep and poke people. I joined, like everyone else, to connect with high school and college friends. But slowly I started “friending” people who were part of my local and business circles, and suddenly I saw new ways to grow those connections in a nice organic way. I began mentioning business activities on Facebook—for example, “I’m going to a beautiful property.” I would never flat-out post a listing; it would just be this subtle, underlying message that I’m in real estate. People began sending me messages asking me to help them or their family or friends with real estate issues.

Twitter is different. While Facebook is a way to connect with people you somehow know, Twitter allows you to grow your connections over a shared interest. Through Twitter, I started to build a new set of contacts who shared my interests in my community, Coral Gables, Fla., and historic homes. Twice a week I’d try to meet for coffee with people I met on Twitter. Twitter changed everything for me. My friend base is now twice as large. I started bonding with other tech-savvy agents and began to get referrals from agents around the country.

I have three other main outlets: Foursquare, Instagram, and Pinterest. Foursquare is powerful because it shows that, as an agent, you don’t just talk about the community, you really experience all it has to offer. Instagram has been huge because I love to post photographs from the homes and neighborhoods. Pinterest, like Twitter, allows me to connect with people through shared interests. Half of our company sales last year came from people I connected with through social media.

I approach my social media presence as part of my business development, and I have time scheduled for it. When I was in sales, I spent about two non-consecutive hours a day on it. But you have to be mindful not to send too much to too many people. Social media is about engaging and connecting, not just pushing marketing messages.

Kristin Kloberdanz, a California-based freelance writer, contributes to TIME Magazine and other publications.